Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reviews: Recently Published Picture Books for Kids


Reviewed by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com



Malala’s Magic Pencil is a children's picture book by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerasco√ęt, published by Penguin Books Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil that she could use to redraw reality. She would use it to give gifts to her family, to erase the smell from the rubbish dump near her house, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. As she grew older, Malala wished for bigger and bigger things. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true.

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells Malala's story, in her own words, for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed her to hold on to hope and to make her voice heard even in the most difficult of times.

Malala tells us about her life, and the injustices she slowly becomes aware of. She speaks of the men who tell girls they are forbidden to attend school, and walk the streets, carrying weapons. Malala also reveals that dangerous men try to silence her. Older children may have heard of this assassination attempt that left Malala struggling for her life. I think kids will be nudged into thinking about injustices they are aware of, and ponder those Malala sees in her own country. The overwhelming message of the book is one of optimism and standing up for what you believe. The “magic” is education, something that truly can change lives. There is magic too in Kerasco√ęt’s illustrations which capture so much emotion and atmosphere.

Kids need role models who are courageous and optimistic, and stories that inspire them. As Malala’s own website says, “If one girl can change the world, what can 130 million girls do?” That’s how many girls the website estimates miss out on schooling because of conflict, child marriage, cost, health and child labour. I’ll be adding Malala’s Magic Pencil to my list of Picture Books about Change, and recommend it to you as a children’s picture book for schools, homes and libraries everywhere.

Wilbur, Grace and Joe is a children’s picture book written by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Amanda Graham and published by Little Book Press (2017.) RRP:$Au 14.99 PB. I have previously reviewed Cummings’ Bridie’s Boots, Night Watch, Newspaper Hats and Feathers.

From the publisher:

A heart-warming story following the tale of Wilbur, Grace and Joe. Join Wilbur, a fun-loving family pet as he shares the joy of Grace and Joe’s first years. He worries when they fall, he rejoices with their first steps… and faithfully joins in all their adventures.

Preschoolers will love this gentle tale about a situation they can relate to. The twins, Grace and Joe, are born and we see them arrive home from hospital. While young children may not actually remember too much about their early years, I’ll bet there are family stories about those times they will want to share! Cummings has written a simple tale in a conversational rhyme with a nice easy refrain. The story will “stick” because of this and help youngsters memorise it and offer to “read” it aloud to their proud loved ones.

I loved the way Wilbur, the family dog, takes everything in his stride, even those sleepless nights. Graham presents him as a small, scruffy brown dog that smiles and is always participating in the twins’ games and outings. Children under 5 will know or own a family pet and enjoy discussing them. The situations in the book - dressing up, learning to walk, climbing in and out of cardboard boxes - will all resonate with a young audience and are beautifully illustrated in vignettes and whole pages by Graham.

La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Jaime Kim, published by Walker (2017.) RRP:$Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:
In this nearly wordless story, Flora and Ulysses' Kate DiCamillo and illustrator Jaime Kim convey a lonely child’s longing for a friend. “La la la...” A little girl stands alone and sings, but hears no response. Gathering her courage and her curiosity, she skips further out into the world, singing away to the trees and the pond and the reeds – but no song comes back to her. Day passes into night, and the girl dares to venture into the darkness toward the light of the moon, climbing as high as she can... Now, will she be heard? With a subtle palette and captivating expressiveness, Jaime Kim brings to life an endearing character and a transcendent landscape that invite readers along on an emotionally satisfying journey.
A nearly wordless picture book is an unusual choice for a writer as good as DiCamillo. Hers is the concept, and it is up to Kim to fully realise it. But it is also up to the reader. A wordless picture book very often doesn’t tell the same story to everyone. They can be enigmatic, open to interpretation, leave us wondering but intrigued. For this reason and more, I think wordless picture books are an important resource for home and libraries.

Kim has chosen intriguing colours. In the beginning, the girl is inside and apart from her, there is little detail. She is mostly black, white and grey. When the autumn leaves beckon her outside, colour is introduced and we see some detail and colour as the child explores. But when the girl ventures out in the dark time, there is almost overwhelming colour and texture in the purplish and moonlit night. The young girl is cleverly illustrated to show a range of emotions and positions that will help children infer what is happening.

I think this unusual children’s picture book will make an interesting focus for discussion, especially with older kids. La La La will be added to my list of Wordless Picture Books and list of Picture Books about Friendship.

When I Grow Up by Tim Minchin, illustrated by Steve Antony and published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $Au 19.99 HB.

From the publisher:

When I grow up, I will be tall enough to reach the branches
That I have to reach to climb the trees
You get to climb when you're grown up...

By Australia's own award-winning lyricist Tim Minchin, illustrated by Steve Antony.

Includes bonus download of a recording of the song by Tim Minchin!

Antony has brought Minchin’s lyrics to life superbly in the children’s picture book, When I Grow Up. The illustrations don’t tell an additional story or sub plot, but there is lots of colour, detail and action reinforcing the text. I love the way the text perfectly captures what all kids figure will happen when they’re grown up - lots of lolly-eating, staying up late, watching TV and fooling around is an adult life for sure (NOT!).

The When I Grow Up song is not an accompanying CD as is so often the case with Scholastic books, instead it’s available as a digital download from a removable card attached inside the book. The card has the download code.

I love the idea of all the connections kids can make with this book! There’s the book and its link to the song, and that song was from Matilda the Musical which is based on a book by Roald Dahl. Plus, it’s always useful for kids to have a text they can both read and listen to. The song lyrics and the book text are almost identical, just very minor differences. You can hear the song in the video below.



The Hole Story by Kelly Canby, published by Fremantle Press (2017.) RRP: $Au 24.99 HB.

From the publisher:

One day Charlie finds a hole. A hole of his very own! He picks it up and pops it in his pocket. But it doesn’t take Charlie long to realise that a hole in your pocket is not a good thing to have ...

The concept behind this children’s picture book is simple but clever. Charlie finds a hole in the ground. We suspend disbelief as Charlie picks up the hole and stows it in his pocket. What happens when there’s a hole in your pocket? Stuff falls out, right? It falls out of his backpack too, so Charlie decides to find a new owner for the hole. He walks along streets of shops. Clever kids will notice the signs above them - a bakery called Bread Pitt, a flower shop called Florist Gump and a Boat Builder called Seas the Day. With Charlie, we enter the arachnid and reptile store (World Wide Web) but its owner declares a hole in his store would be a disaster!

And so it goes. Sometimes it seems that at last Charlie will find a new owner for the hole but finally he gives up, deciding “This hole is no good at all…” Kids will love what happens as Charlie walks away!

Canby’s illustrations are delightful, with bright watercolours and a naive style. The final end papers will spark a useful discussion about animals that live in holes. I’ll be adding The Hole Story to my list of Picture Books on Environment.

There’s a Big Green Frog in the Toilet by Anh Do, illustrated by Heath McKenzie, published by Scholastic Australia (2017.) RRP: $19.99 HD

From the publisher:

There’s a big green frog in the toilet and it’s looking up at me.
There’s a big green frog in the toilet and I’m busting for a wee!

Sing along to find out what happens when a frog won’t budge in this funny story from Anh Do, Simon Mellor and Heath McKenzie!

Here’s a children's picture book that will be grabbed by kids who believe anything connected to bodily functions must be HILARIOUS! Teachers and parents who know an accompanying audio CD helps kids learn to memorise and thus read, will be happy too. The story/lyrics are simple and repetitive, illustrations are lots of fun, and the song is bright and breezy.

Stink-o-saurus by Deano Yipadee, illustrated by Paul Beavis and published by Scholastic New Zealand (2017.) RRP: $Au 16.99 PB

From the publisher:

You’ll split your pants laughing at Stan, the world’s only STINK-O-SAURUS. But can his stinky antics save the day and keep Tommy T-Rex far away?

From the creators of the hilarious Jingle Bells, Rudolph Smells and Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine.

As well as bodily function humour, let’s face it, lots of kids love anything that stinks! Stinkosaurus does very smelly farts, and that causes problems for his friends in the jungle. Along comes a T-Rex and perhaps you can guess what happens? Predicting is part of the fun, the zany illustrations add still more, and kids will clamour to sing the song on the accompanying CD. The CD means kids can listen while they read, reinforcing their word recognition skills.

Quirky Bird by Roger Priddy, published by Priddy Books (PanMacmillan in Australia.) (2017.) RRP: $Au 12.99

From the publisher:

Children will love to touch and feel each bird in this humorous Alphaprints board book with fun, novelty googly eyes. With a tactiles to touch and a funny rhyme to read, the friendly, feathery characters are sure to entertain and amuse! The touch-and-feel textures and fingerprint embossing make these books engaging and interesting for children and adults alike.

Happy Dog and Other Furry Friends by Roger Priddy, published by Priddy Books (PanMacmillan in Australia.) (2017.) RRP: $Au 12.99

From the publisher:

Children will love to touch and feel each dog in this humorous Alphaprints board book with fun, novelty googly eyes. With tactiles to touch and a funny rhyme to read, the friendly, furry characters are sure to entertain and amuse! The touch-and-feel textures and fingerprint embossing make these books engaging and interesting for children and adults alike.

Board books are important for our youngest readers. They’re sturdy, and usually pages are glossy enough to removed the occasional sticky kiss or spill. Here’s two that I recommend. Both Quirky Bird and Happy Dog will intrigue youngsters and bring a smile to the face of the tiredest parent! Each page turn made me grin, that’s for sure. Images of the animals have been so cleverly constructed. The pug has a button for his nose, his body is made from a textured fingerprint, complete with touchable whorls, and his face is cupcake icing.

The very clever creators have used objects like potatoes, pompoms, saveloys and cinnamon scrolls to help construct the animals. And there’s more. They have also included actual textures for kids to touch by inserting fabric into the pages.The rhyming captions are a bonus, as are the googly eyes on both covers and the bright, cheerful colours throughout.

I know these books will inspire children to look at the textures and objects they see around them and combine those textures and images into their own art works. There are more Alphaprints books mentioned on the PanMacmillan website. (I haven't seen it, but love the sound of this one that has tips for kids on how to create their own Alphaprint pictures.)

Witchfairy is a children’s picture book, written by Brigitte Mine, illustrated by Carll Cneut, translated by Laura Watkinson, and published by Book Island (2017.) RRP: $NZ 29.99 HB.

From the publisher:

Rosemary is bored of being a fairy. She’d much rather be a witch. Much to the disapproval of her mother she takes off to spend time with the witches in the dark wood. Rosemary thoroughly enjoys her new life as a witch but eventually decides to take the best of both worlds and becomes a witchfairy.

Hard to imagine that someone might be bored with being a fairy, isn’t it. And yet, I just know there will be children who will understand Rosemary’s plight. This is not a traditional 32 page picture book, but a longer form at 48 pages and as such perhaps, better as a read-aloud for kids 7+. It’s also large in size at 300mm by 235 mm. The illustrations are a little dark, as they should be, and wholly stunning. The fairies have different coloured hats, and shorter pointy noses, but the similarities are just as obvious as the differences.

There is conflict between mother and daughter in the book, and some situations are quite frank, not airbrushed at all:

"Look at the state of you. And you stink to high heaven."
"Witches stink. That’s the way things are," Rosemary replied.
"I don’t want a stinking witch for a daughter," her mum barked.

I loved that both Rosemary and her mum were able to change and compromise in the book. It would make a good choice for schools that want kids to focus on family, culture and stereotypes. I also recommend it to libraries and families looking for picture books that have a European “feel” to them, something different.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.

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